Nikol Pashinyan speaking at the Armenian National Assembly

Pashinyan Fails to Get Majority Vote in Parliament

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YEREVAN (Combined Sources) — Armenian opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan failed to secure a majority of votes in parliament on Tuesday, May 1, to become prime minister after weeks of protests forced the previous holder of the post to step down.

Pashinyan, who was the only candidate for the post, had called on individual members of parliament to cross party lines and support him when the ruling Republican party said that it would not vote for him after a nine-hour session.

In a vote late on Tuesday, he received 45 votes, eight short of the 53 he needed to have a majority in the 105-seat legislature.

Thousands of opposition supporters had spent the day rallying outside the parliament building to support Pashinyan. While addressing MPs earlier in the day, he warned that Armenia would be struck by a “political tsunami” if he were not appointed as prime minister.

The vote result means that the parliament will have to meet again on May 8 for another debate on the next prime minister. Under the Armenian constitution, the legislature will be automatically disbanded and fresh elections will be called if it again fails to choose a premier.

Pashinyan, whose candidacy was dismissed in the National Assembly today, was again rallying at Republic Square on Wednesday evening.

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The vote was called after Serzh Sargsyan, who led Armenia as president for 10 years and left office in early April because of term limits, stepped down amid the mass anti-government protests Pashinyan led.

The Yelk or “Exit” opposition alliance had announced Pashinyan’s nomination at the start of Tuesday’s session and he later took the floor to answer fellow deputies’ questions.

The Armenian constitution dictates that parliament must reconvene next week for another vote.

Civil Disobedience to Continue

Pashinyan said after the vote that May 2 should be declared as day of “total strikes.” Delivering a speech at a rally in Republic Square, he said that “all interstate roads, railways, streets, airports and everything that is possible will be blocked from 8.15 am tomorrow.”

Pashinyan said in his speech that on May 1 more than 250,000 citizens had stood in Republic Square for more than 12 hours.

“This means that our victory has been recorded; this is a new Armenia, which is controlled and governed by the people,” he said.

“The behavior of RPA [Republican Party of Armenia] today was a complete provocation against the people and their candidate, but the political corpse called RPA does not at all deserve our attention. The negotiations, so much discussed today, can only relate to the political funeral of RPA,” Pashinyan said.

“We do not have an opportunity or option to step back even half a millimeter. We should step up to save our country,” the MP stressed.

He called on the police to “to lay down shields and batons and join the people.”

Parliament Vote

Fifty-five other lawmakers representing former Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) voted against Pashinyan in line with a decision announced by the HHK leadership shortly before the vote. HHK leaders said during the debate that Pashinyan is not fit to govern the country. They also pointed to his lack of government experience and questioned his ability to serve as commander-in-chief of Armenia’s armed forces.

Several HHK deputies also pointed Pashinyan’s past harsh criticisms of Armenia’s membership in the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). They claimed that Armenia could find itself at odds with Russia if he comes to power.

Vahram Baghdasarian, the HHK’s parliamentary leader, claimed that Pashinyan’s tenure would be fraught with “destructive consequences” and “fateful dangers” for the country. He also said that Sargsyan’s resignation on April 23 was a sufficient response to the massive street protests launched by Pashinyan.

“I hoped to hear a conceptual speech by a candidate for prime minister but I witnessed a speech that only flattered people’s ears and was not based on a program,” said Eduard Sharmazanov, a deputy parliament speaker. “Mr. Pashinyan, you didn’t convince me. I don’t see you as commander-in-chief.”

Pashinyan tried in vain to win over at least some members of the HHK majority when he twice gave speeches in the parliament and answered questions from over two dozen lawmakers. In the end, only HHK deputy, Felix Tsolakyan, voted for him.

Voting for Pashinyan were deputies affiliated with the opposition Yelk alliance, Gagik Tsarukian’s bloc and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). One of Dashnaktsutyun’s seven deputies, Aghvan Vartanian, refused to back the opposition candidate, however, defying a decision made by his party. Vartanian said he is ready to resign from the parliament as a result.

Pashinyan warned before the vote that the parliament’s failure to choose him as prime minister would mean that the ruling party has “destroyed itself at once and irreversibly.” He also said that the full victory of his popular movement is inevitable.

“A force declaring a war on its own people cannot exist and what we are seeing is not the HHK or its parliamentary faction but a ghost,” he said. He strongly condemned HHK claims that his premiership would hurt Russian-Armenian ties and increase the risk of a war with Azerbaijan.

Stances and Goals

During the parliamentary question period, Pashinyan expanded on some of his positions, including hiding property.

“It is very important to enhance the effectiveness of the mechanism of property declaration by officials, since now this mechanism gives them room for hiding information about property,” Pashinyan said.

Off-shore accounts: Noting that many corruption scandals in the world are offshore deals and money abroad, he proposed to establish a special state agency, for example, the ethics committee, for controlling accounts of Armenian officials at any spot all over the world.

Only those complying with this requirement will be eligible to seek any public office.

Healthcare: “The problems the healthcare area faces are due to the low effectiveness, corruption risks and limited financial resources,” Pashinyan said. “It is possible to solve the existing problems only with taking into account these factors.”

When the budget increases by 30 percent, he said, the financing for the healthcare area can be increased.

“For months citizens can’t receive the government-paid medical services, since the public financial resources expire already in the beginning of any year,” he said.

Urging Calm

Meanwhile, both President Armen Sarkissian and Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II urged civic responsibility and calm.

In his statement issued on Tuesday, President Sarkissian said all eyes of Armenia, Artsakh and Diaspora are on Yerevan now.

He called on the deputies, political forces, state institutions and all others to make any action of step in accordance with the Constitution and for the benefit of the state and the people.

The catholicos issued a statement after the vote: “Today it was impossible to reach a unified decision on the election of the Prime Minister of the National Assembly. The situation in the country remains tense and worrying.

“We urge the authorities and the opposition to act in the framework of legality, to find the settlement of issues in the spirit of sympathy and understanding, avoiding our people from conflict situations.

“We appeal to all the parliamentary factions to continue their efforts for the settlement of the current situation through negotiations.

“Our exhortation and request is to dear children of our people, to maintain solidarity, vigilance, not to provoke provocations. Let us not allow the hatred and enmity we face in our lives so that the current situation can be solved with wisdom, in the spirit of love and understanding.

“We pray for the peace of our Homeland, the security of our people.”

A senior U.S. State Department official telephoned Pashinyan on Monday to discuss the continuing political crisis in Armenia.

In a short Facebook post, Pashinyan said he and Assistant Secretary of State Wess Mitchell touched upon “issues relating to a peaceful and legal resolution” of the crisis sparked by massive anti-government protests. He did not elaborate.

The State Department renewed at the weekend its calls for the leading Armenian factions to end the turmoil through dialogue.

“The United States continues to monitor closely the situation in Armenia,” said a spokeswoman for the department, Heather Nauert. “As a friend of Armenia, we urge all parties to engage in good faith negotiations on the formation of a new government in accordance with the Constitution, and to reach a resolution that reflects the interests of all Armenians.”

“We support the ongoing efforts of the Office of President [Armen] Sarkissian to facilitate dialogue between all parties. We continue to commend the peaceful nature of the demonstrations, and trust that the security forces and those exercising their right to peaceful protest will remain committed to non-violence in the days to come,” Nauert added in a statement.

The U.S. ambassador in Yerevan, Richard Mills, met with both Pashinyan and acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetyan last week in a bid to help ease political tensions in Armenia.

Pashinyan spoke with Mitchell the day before a session of the Armenian parliament which is due to elect the country’s new prime minister. The previous premier, Serzh Sarkisian, resigned on April 23 under pressure from tens of thousands of Pashinyan supporters demonstrating in the streets against his continued rule.

(The Guardian, Mediamax, RFE/RL and Arka contributed to this report.)

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